By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
There are times when Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid will open the doors of United Methodist Church and unexpectedly find bags of donated food lining the hallway.
At other times, a person she calls the “mystery donator” will leave bags of food on the church steps.
These are examples of the community’s generosity in helping the Sea Isle City church to feed local residents who are struggling to make ends meet or are simply too poor to even buy food.
“There’s always food here, because we don’t want people to be hungry,” Doyle-Waid said in an interview Saturday.
The church runs a community food bank that allows people to stop in, browse through the shelves and select the items they want – similar to someone shopping in a grocery store. But in this case, the food is free.
“We try to keep it as full as possible,” the pastor explained of the food cupboard. “We keep things that other places don’t have.”
“We let people come in and shop,” she added. “Shopping is synonymous with picking their own items.”
A room inside the church at 4102 Central Ave. has been converted into a food pantry. The renovation work was done several years ago by Sea Isle Boy Scout William Poole for his Eagle Scout project.
The shelves are brimming with cans of soup, cereal, bags of flour, cake mix, pasta, coffee, juices and myriad other types of food and beverages. But there are also household items such as bathroom tissue, paper towels and cleaners as well as toiletries including shampoo, toothpaste and diapers. There is also a refrigerator stocked with meats and vegetables.
“We want people to know it’s here, because so many people are hungry. It’s horrible,” Doyle-Waid said.
The United Methodist Church food cupboard is part of the Cape May County food bank network, so it serves people throughout the county, not just in Sea Isle.
“We are on the county food bank list, so everyone can come here,” Doyle-Waid said.
Although Sea Isle and other neighboring beach resorts are best known as vacation havens crowded with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes, Doyle-Waid pointed out that there are pockets of poverty in the county.
“Part of it is our seasonal economy. So many people work during the summer in the local businesses, but there’s not a lot of work for them later on,” she said of the quiet offseason months at the shore.
“We have this tourist thing, but no one ever thinks there’s poverty,” she continued.
The church food bank is usually the busiest from October to April, when the shore economy traditionally remains slow.
“When the work dries up, people are really hungry,” Doyle-Waid said.
One particularly alarming trend is a recent increase in the number of senior citizens who depend on the food bank. Doyle-Waid said the food bank helps them to “bridge that gap” in their food budgets.
“We see a lot more senior citizens recently,” she said. “I think people are stretching their dollars. If someone’s spouse dies, then their benefits are cut in half. Some people are living paycheck to paycheck.”
Doyle-Waid praised all of the individual donors, businesses, organizations and civic groups that help to keep the food bank shelves full throughout the year.
“We’re able to stay so well-stocked because people have been so generous,” she said. “Sometimes, I’ll come back to the church when the doors are unlocked and I’ll find bags of food in the hall.”
The “mystery donator” mentioned earlier leaves bags of food on the church steps about once a month. That person remains anonymous, unknown even to Doyle-Waid.
One upcoming event traditionally provides a big boost for the church food bank. The Mike’s Seafood Run-Walk for Autism, which is held during Sea Isle’s hugely popular Polar Bear Plunge Weekend festivities, donates leftover food from the event to help the church. The run-walk for autism will be held Sunday, Feb. 16, and is one of the centerpieces of the Polar Bear Plunge Weekend on Feb. 14-16.
People may call (609) 231-4929 for more information about the United Methodist Church food bank or to arrange to stop in for food. The church is located at 4102 Central Ave., overlooking the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway into Sea Isle City.